A home at 1605 Highway 86 that had been vacant and used by squatters was burned to the ground in an alleged act of arson on Friday morning, Nov. 17. A woman was arrested for the crime. | GOOGLE IMAGE

Arson Burns Home South of El Centro; Suspect Jailed

EL CENTRO — An El Centro woman was apparently arrested for arson of an inhabited structure in connection with an early-morning fire that destroyed a large home south of El Centro on Highway 86 that had become a site for squatters, according to an Imperial County fire official.

No one was hurt in the third-alarm blaze, according to the fire official.

Sarika Viviana Vargas-Sauarez | IMPERIAL COUNTY JAIL PHOTO

Sarika Viviana Vargas-Sauarez, 38, was arrested on suspicion of the crime by Imperial County sheriff’s deputies shortly before 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 17. She was being held at the Imperial County jail with bail set at $60,000.

Sheriff’s officials could not be reached for comment on the case Saturday morning, Nov. 18. It wasn’t clear what tied Vargas-Sauarez to the fire other than Imperial County Fire Battalion Chief Oscar Robles confirmed on Saturday that the arson arrest was the same as the 4 a.m. Friday call fire crew’s responded to at 1605 Highway 86.

It wasn’t known whether Vargas-Sauarez was among the squatters at the vacant home or whether she was alleged to have committed an “accidental” arson caused by a warming or cooking fire or whether it was intentionally set to do damage.

Either way, the fire caused a complete loss of the structure on Friday morning, due to firefighting efforts being significantly delayed at the start by near-zero visibility from the heavy fog that blanketed the Imperial Valley, Robles said.

The house was fully engulfed when fire crews arrived, and they could see no farther than “five- to 10-feet” in front of them, Robles said, which made it dangerous to proceed with aggressive firefighting efforts. 

However, there was one home to the south of the burning property, and Robles said fire crews were able to provide successful protection.

Robles, who didn’t arrive on scene until the very end to relieve tired crews, said it took initial personnel three to four hours to extinguish the blaze, which was a third-alarm mutual-aid response. 

He said the initial response was overseen by Imperial County Fire Department’s Heber substation, assisted by El Centro, Holtville, Brawley and Centinela State Prison fire departments.

A home at 1605 Highway 86 (red pin) that had been vacant and used by squatters was burned to the ground in an alleged act of arson on Friday morning, Nov. 17. | GOOGLE MAP